The Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday is one of the great races of the jump season but you need more than just a potentially well handicapped horse to win it.
We learned that with Djakadam in 2014 (who finished 8th to Many Clouds but went on to finish second to Coneygree in that season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup) that you have to come into this contest race fit and ready for battle.
Alan King found the same with Smad Place who had a Kempton prep before running-away with last year’s Hennessy at the second attempt. And nearly all the fancied horses will arrive on Saturday with a run of some description under their belts.
Most of the principals for Saturday’s contest are rated in the mid-150s and will need to find an extra 20lbs or so in the ratings if they want to be considered a serious Gold Cup contender next March.
For me, Native River looks the biggest improver in the field and ran a great prep race over hurdles at Wetherby.
That run would have served two purposes in that it got him fitter for this contest and crucially, protected his chase ‘mark’. Saturday’s race should suit his front-running style, he jumps well and stamina isn’t an issue. He ticks an awful lot of the boxes for me.
Saphir Du Rheu started 9/2 favourite for last year’s feature before finishing fifth. Paul Nicholls said he was happy with his seasonal bow at Ascot in October when third to Antony but he just hasn’t delivered on the big occasion enough times when he’s been fancied.
Blaklion won the RSA Chase last March and that’s traditionally been a good guide to this race. We may see him and Virak in a different light than when they were fourth and fifth respectively in the Charlie Hall Chase last month, but Native River looks to have more scope for improvement than both of them.
Nicky Henderson’s Vyta De Roc has been well touted all week and gets in here at the foot of the weights. The Seven Barrows trainer has won the Hennessy with Triolo D’Alene and Bobs Worth relatively recently. Vyta De Roc had a hurdles prep when third to another strong stayer and Festival winner Un Temps Pour Tout at Aintree last month.
If Outlander travels, he could run well. I got the rub of the green on Alelchi Inois when we took advantage of his final fence fall at Clonmel last week. It was an uncharacteristic mistake by Outlander and coming off a fall like that is not ideal but he could still be on a good handicap mark.
I could tell you pretty much what I liked about Sunday’s Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown as the fog affected visibility that much no one could contradict me. We went a fair gallop and Nichols Canyon was able to outstay Jer’s Girl from the second last.
He’s a high-class horse and is the only one to have beaten Faugheen (here last year), I was glad to be on the right one this time. We’ll keep our options open.
I had a rear-view of Identity Thief on Gordon Elliott’s Ball D’Arc for most of Grade 2 Craddockstown Chase on the same card. He and Ordinary World quickened away from us after the fourth last when they really upped the ante. I was jumping well, but I wasn’t making any ground on them. Identity Thief always looked to have the race under control and Bryan Cooper just won as much as he needed to.
Our big talking horse Senewalk ran no race when sixth to Noel Meade’s Moulin A Vent in the maiden hurdle, so it’s back to the drawing board with him.
Right on Cue
Yanworth looked workmanlike at Ascot, but the further they went the more he was going to win.
On the other hand, Cue Card was impressive at Haydock and Paddy Brennan made sure that his mount’s fitness was going to tell against Coneygree. He never allowed the former Gold Cup winner to catch his breath when he needed to as there was no way he was going to slow the pace down and let Coneygree kick on again.
Coneygree may get closer to him in the King George VI Chase on December 26, but will he improve enough to beat him? I’d still favour Cue Card to come out ton top at Kempton – if both turn up.
Connections may look at the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on Dec 28 as anyone with a good horse will always keep their options open. But the Lexus Chase will be no ‘gimme’ either.
One race that is shaping up into a potential cracker is the Arkle Chase next March.
Identity Thief is improving and Altior looked very good when winning at Kempton on Monday – even if he missed the fifth last fence. Last season’s impressive Supreme Novices hurdle winner looks to have a lot of power and natural ability over fences.
Min has an entry at Navan on Sunday in the beginners chase that Douvan won last year. If he runs, we’ll have a better idea where he stands in the pecking order – but it’s early days yet.